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Hierarchy and Order

Nonwestern And New Conceptions

Conceptions of order and hierarchy are by no means occidental ones. Ancient Chinese philosophers, discussing the world's order, used the term dao (way, guide). They usually spoke of three main species of dao (and, consequently, of three orders): human (social) dao, tian (natural or heavenly) dao, and great dao. The first is a way or guide for human behavior; the second is similar to the laws of nature, which cause things to happen reliably; the third comprises everything which has happened, is happening, or will happen in the world. It is obvious, therefore, that both human dao and tian dao are parts of the great dao. It is great dao that is responsible for the order of things in the world.

However, because the concept of dao is rather vague, there are different interpretations of this order, ranging from anarchist and pluralist doctrines to hierarchical and authoritarian interpretations. It is possible to say that philosophical doctrines of Daoism lean toward pluralism, skepticism, poltical equality, and freedom. Religious mysticism, on the other hand, often claims some direct access to a single correct dao, forming a basis for esoteric, hierarchical and authoritarian thought. The most prominent representatives of philosophical Daoism were Laozi (c. 604–c. 531 B.C.E.), author of Dao De Jing, and Zhuangzi (c. 369–c. 286 B.C.E.), who created a mature form of philosophical Daoism.

In the Indian Buddhist tradition, the main cause of the order in the world is human will, attaching human being to the world and dragging the world into an endless circle of suffering, the true essence of the world's order. The main point of Buddhist ethics is to stop the suffering through quitting the will and achieving the highest possible mental state, that of nirvana.

Scholars of African religious traditions show that African religious philosophy, such as Yoruba belief, implies a complex hierarchy in the world, created by the supreme god Oludomare, described as the omnipotent creator of all good and bad things. The numerous gods, created by Oludomare, form a hierarchy of mediators between him and the world. The most striking feature of Yoruba belief, distinguishing this religion from Judeo-Christian tradition, is that Oludomare is perceived as responsible for both good and evil, using both good and bad in the process of ensuring justice. Moreover, the world is ordered in a way that implies immediate punishment for sinful deeds of the people.

One Eastern Christian doctrine of hierarchy and order can be found in the Russian philosophy of All-Unity, which flourished at the end of the nineteenth century. The main idea of this tradition is that the world can be reunited with God through the efforts of human beings and by uniting the things with the prototypes that exist in Divine Wisdom (Sophia). For the founder of this tradition, Vladimir Solovyev (1853–1900), Sophia is a world in its ideal, true being and is created in eternity by eternal Logos. Sergey Bulgakov, who worked in the first half of the twentieth century, considered Sophia as God's fourth hypostasis. Sophiology enabled these philosophers to understand the order of the universe as potential all-unity, already existed in Divine Sophia.

Contemporary theories of order are not so numerous. The crisis of the idea of the Great Chain of Being, caused both by the rise of natural science and by the crisis of religious consciousness, led to nonhierarchical understandings of order. The order becomes a characteristic feature of various systems. The Brussels school in natural science (Prigogine and Stengers) considers order as a spontaneous result of the process of self-organization in open systems, exchanging energy with their environment. Society and biological systems, according to Prigogine, are such self-organizing systems and cannot be described in terms of the old mechanical paradigm of science.

Contemporary postmodern and poststructuralist authors criticize "western logocentric tradition" for its attempts to find order, hierarchy and meaning in all things. They argue for the existence of many differences, which are so chaotic in their relations to each other that they exclude any possibility of organized oppositions. As a result, the unordered chaos does not allow for the contrast of differences, and differences are no longer perceived as such. Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995), in his quest for "difference in itself," rejects the old Platonic and Hegelian tradition, which understands the difference in reference to self-identical objects, and which, in turn, makes the difference an element of hierarchical structure. Difference-in-itself, on the contrary, does not imply order at all, and various differences, remaining in "formless chaos," does not form any structure.


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Maxim Khomiakov

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Heterodyne to Hydrazoic acidHierarchy and Order - Uncreated Cosmos, Created Order, Nonwestern And New Conceptions, Bibliography